Friday, May 20, 2011

Portal 2 Review

Alright, I've been putting this off because I couldn't think of an image to draw for it and other things keep coming up so screw it, I'm gonna go ahead without an image.  Wouldn't be the first time.

Portal 2 Review

Well, if you've been on the moon for the last four years, you just might not have heard of the wildly successful video game named Portal.  Released in 2007, Portal introduced a very clever world chock-full of physics based puzzles centered around the portal gun; an item that opens portals on surfaces, giving an instant link between them.  It's an idea that nearly everyone has thought of at some point but it had never before been achieved in video games to quite this degree.  The game was simple and effective in its presentation, ranging from easy to utterly grueling in its difficulty, and just a joy to play.
Fast forward to 2011, the inevitable sequel has come out.  Simply titled Portal 2, we've received another game with tons of puzzles in the vain of the original but also plenty of new elements as well.  And as it turns out, Portal 2 is a satisfying sequel in every way imaginable.  The puzzles are refreshing, new and challenging, the writing is even better than the first and the added elements are all for the better.  But I'm getting ahead of myself; let's dig into the specifics.

The writing:  Portal-developer Valve is one of few developers out there that treat their fanbase seriously and even enjoy friendly banter with them.  When one fan e-mailed Valve employee Gabe Newell stating that he planned on infiltrating Valve in order to steal an early copy of Portal 2 and asked which door he should use (as a joke), Gabe replied with "The one with the turret."  As for why I mention this in the writing section:  Valve listens to their fanbase, treats them with respect and it shows big time in the writing of their games.
Portal 2 is no exception, constantly being witty, humourous and ominous.  It doesn't hold your hand but it gives you enough information to piece together what's going on just when you need to.  In the first Portal, brief references were given to the outside world that indicated the game took place in the same universe as Half-Life.  In Portal 2, these references have been elaborated on and very cleverly integrated into the plot.
Writing about the...uh...writing in Portal 2 is tricky.  You are going to want every little twist, every last line, to be as fresh as possible when you play the game and thus I can't bring myself to spoil any of it for you.  Just trust me when I say it's bloody brilliant.

On a similar note, Portal 2 is one of few games that has gotten me really invested in the sound design.  Every bit of sound, every bit of recorded dialogue, every bit of minimal background music is placed and timed with impeccable precision.  The voice acting, which this game has quite a bit more of than its predecessor, is always top-notch.  The music creates the perfect atmosphere for every moment.  Of course, we also have the songs.
We all know 'Still Alive' by now, the song played during the credits of the first game.  Portal 2 has its own.  In fact, it kind of has 2.  There's a song that plays before the credits and a song that plays during.  Once again, I don't want to spoil them so you can look them up on YouTube if you so choose.
Additionally, there's an outside song as well.  A song written about the ending of the game which is not in the game itself.  This song is called 'Exile Vilify' by The National and it quickly made its way to 'songs I listen to almost every day'.
Oh, and the co-op play has yet another quirky song for the ending credits as well.

Visually, the game's not mind-blowing.  In fact, it's slightly dated looking not much better than the first.  There's more variety to the scenery due to it being several years later and the Aperture Science building has become very dilapidated, but from a technical standpoint, nothing shows improved graphical prowess.
However, it's still an aesthetically pleasing game.  The variety of locations is nice, the visuals compliment the same moods that the musical score entail and it's all-in-all well thought-out.

Finally, we have gameplay.  If you've played Portal, you'll be right at home when picking up Portal 2.  The core mechanic has remained largely unchanged; use portal gun to bridge locations and solve puzzles with that ability.  Things get pretty nifty once you experience the new elements to the game.
A simple new feature is the ability to see a marker of where a portal is even if you can't physically see it (basically, you can see through walls to where your portals are).  This is especially helpful if you've taken a break from the game in the middle of a puzzle or if you're just a forgetful person.
Things start getting really interesting, however, near the midway point of the game.  The new, major element introduced in Portal 2 is the "gels".  These are colour-coded substances that you can use to change the area around you and help you solve puzzles.  The first you'll encounter is the blue gel which has "Mario Spring" like qualities; drop on it and it will propel you far into the air.
There's also the orange gel, which increases your speed as you move across it, and the white gel, which you can splash on surfaces that you previously could not open portals on in order to be able to.
The game does a good job of giving you a few tests with these gels isolated to ease you in to the concept and then, it quite suddenly drops you into very intricate tests that involve using all 3 gels.
It really is astounding just how clever some of the later puzzles are, but that also brings up my one issue with the game.  Much like its predecessor, Portal 2 does not take long to complete.  A short playtime isn't too big a deal if the experience was truly satisfying however, I still wish the game would have gone on a bit longer before the climax.  It was only in the very last few puzzles that I started to get really, truly stumped and I wanted more of that.

But thankfully, this time around there's also a multi-player mode.  Portal 2 features an entirely original, 2-player co-operative mode that shows just as much cleverness and ingenuity as the single-player campaign.
The flow of the co-op mode is very similar to that of the single-player; solve some standard tests, encounter gel-based tests halfway through, solve much harder tests.  The big difference (spoiler ahead but it's honestly not too big of one) is that there's no final boss in the co-op mode.  Instead, you encounter a large group of extremely perplexing puzzles in one area.  I'll leave it at that.
Certain gameplay elements are exclusive to the co-op mode in order to increase the ease of communication and they are very helpful.  I played the game in an offline split-screen mode with my brother and even then, the in-game communication was useful.  Most useful is that you can place 'markers' to signal where you want your partner to open a portal.
The co-operative mode takes full advantage of the fact that there are two-players.  None of the puzzles are solvable with only one person and many of them require very precise, coordinated teamwork.
The witty writing is still present as well, with GLaD0S berating you for every mistake you make and even sometimes for doing things right.

In the end, this game is absolutely worth having, no doubt about it.  The price is just a bit too high, in my humble opinion, though.  However, free download content set to be released soon may make it worthwhile.
The are 2 shortcomings in this game, it ends a little prematurely, just when the puzzles are getting really tough, and it's just a tiny bit dated in the graphics department.  Other than that, it's perfect.

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